published Friday, January 10th, 2014

Success speaks volumes: CSLA librarian wins Carnegie award, 1 of 10 nationwide

Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts librarian Charlotte Carr Vlasis is one of 10 librarians in the United States to be given an I Love My Librarian Award by the Carnegie Corp.
Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts librarian Charlotte Carr Vlasis is one of 10 librarians in the United States to be given an I Love My Librarian Award by the Carnegie Corp.
Photo by John Rawlston.

‘I LOVE MY LIBRARIAN’ WINNERS

• Julia Allegrini, Covington branch manager, Kenton County (Ky.) Public Library

• Shahla Bahavar, director, Public Services Division, University of Southern California Libraries Los Angeles

• Holly Camino, Buckeye branch manager, Medina County (Ohio) District Library

• Kathy Meulen Ellison, teacher librarian, Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

• Harold M. Forbes, curator, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, W.V.

• Caroline “Xiaofang” Han, senior librarian, Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library

• Jennifer J. Jamison, school library media specialist, Atlantic City (N.J.) High School

• Julie Kane, director of digital teaching and learning/digital pedagogies, Sweet Briar (Va.) College

• Molly Ledermann, reference librarian, Missoula (Mont.) Public Library

• Charlotte Carr Vlasis, librarian, Chattanooga (Tenn.) School for the Liberal Arts

Source: I Love My Librarian contest

When Charlotte Carr Vlasis became a school librarian 35 years ago, research was done the old-fashioned way. Students looked up topics in hardback volumes from a set of encyclopedia, scoured articles until they found the information needed, then copied that down to transfer into a school report.

Today’s tech-savvy students research a topic online in a matter of seconds just by Googling a couple of keywords followed by the click of their mouse.

Along with changing technology, the role of librarian has evolved in order to keep these depositories of information relevant in the learning process, says Vlasis. She has served as librarian at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, a Hamilton County magnet school for grades K-8, for the last 18 years. For her service to her school and community, Vlasis is one of 10 librarians nationwide to be honored with an “I Love My Librarian Award,” presented by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the New York Times.

“I want students to see the library is not just the room to house books,” she explains. “Now it’s about teaching students to find information and evaluate whether it’s the information they need, how reliable it is — you can’t believe everything you find on the Internet — and how to use it in their research.

“My role is to teach them how to ask questions and how to find the information they need to answer those questions — skills they will use the rest of their lives,” she says.

More than 1,100 librarians from elementary, middle, high school and college campuses were nominated for the 2013 I Love My Librarian Awards, according to the Carnegie Corp. Vlasis is the first winner from Tennessee since the award was founded in 2008.

The 10 winners received $5,000, a plaque and a $500 travel stipend to attend an awards reception in New York City last month, which was hosted by the New York Times. Vlasis says she was unable to attend the reception since she was recuperating from knee surgery.

Vlasis describes her role at CSLA as a “collaborator with teachers, to be a co-teacher on every team.”

She has been so successful and become so well-regarded in her field, other principals in Hamilton County Schools send their librarians to work with her and learn. This “mentoring the next generation of school librarians,” as the Carnegie Corp. described it, was a contributing factor in her win.

“I knew about Charlotte before I became her principal because I sent a librarian-in-training to her from my previous school,” says Krystal Scarbrough, now CSLA principal. “Her reputation goes far beyond what I know in my years at CSLA. She is quite an unusual educator. Our school enjoys a lot of our success because of the impact she has had on us as teachers and students.”

The principal says Vlasis’s work at CSLA goes far beyond the librarian title. In addition to serving as media director, she collaborates with all teachers during their weekly planning sessions and pulls resources for them to support lessons.

“She doesn’t see herself as a one-dimensional teacher, but helps empower all teachers to better,” Scarbrough says.

Vlasis says she was unaware that Cindy Gaston, CSLA curriculum coach, had nominated her for the award. Gaston wrote that Vlasis has made “the library the hub of lifelong learning at CSLA. She hosts research groups to support classroom projects. She creates graphic organizers to make research doable, even for kindergartners.”

“I am one of few librarians who teach kindergartners how to research,” Vlasis says. “Even though they can’t read yet, it’s never too soon to start the learning process.”

She says she welcomes groups of five or six kindergartners at a time to the library, where they look at pictures as she reads to them.

“I model for them how to read, how to look up answers. They’ll have with them a paper with questions to be answered. I read the questions, they answer, and then they go back to their classes and teach the other students what they’ve learned. It empowers them, they feel so smart when they leave,” she explains.

Vlasis says she builds on this learning process each year until, by the time students have reached eighth grade, they have a good handle on the research process. All CSLA eighth-graders are required to complete an exit project before graduating. These projects consist of 10 articles written on various aspects of the same topic, combined into a magazine presentation.

“Charlotte is very good at helping students research questions around their chosen topics. She guides them toward appropriate resources to find a wide variety of information,” wrote Gaston.

And nobody slides on effort under her watch.

“I made one student come back in the summer because he didn’t do the work,” Vlasis says.

Believing he could have done a better job on his exit project, she lined up a tour of a local TV news station and took the student there to do some hands-on research.

“She helped him write an article about his day — all of it done without any pay,” Gaston noted.

She’s helped Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts research information to earn merit badges. She keeps flexible library hours so students may check out a book any time and as many times as they wish — all part of her efforts to encourage children to read for entertainment.

“I try to incorporate ebooks for kids who have e-readers, but I still believe small children should read books in print for practice to improve their reading skills and, as children grow, reading becomes more about learning about themselves and the world. It’s part of their personal growth,” she says.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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